- “I don’t know why you married that man”
- “Don’t leave your job! You’ve got benefits and security!”
- “I know you said you’re on a diet, but do you want to split the brownie sundae?”
- “You can’t make a living from Art. You should get a business degree.”
- “Can’t you just take mom to all her doctor appointments since you don’t have a job?”
- “Oh, I didn’t parent you with all this cotton and organic stuff and you turned out fine.”
Today you’ll learn the 4 reasons friends and family are unsupportive and my top 5 tips for handling them like a pro so you can walk away feeling calm and confident.
Let me start with exactly what I’m talking about today. I’m not talking about how to deal with toxic people. Toxic people are super unhealthy and are looking to bring you down so they can feel better about themselves. These relationships are full of gaslighting and are emotionally abusive, so there are different tactics to use with them than for your friends or family who simply aren’t supportive. I’ll be doing a separate podcast all about how to deal with toxic people so put that on the back burner for now.
Today, I’m talking about simply not being supported, which usually shows up as someone having a negative first response to your ideas or your life. So, if you’re sharing an idea and your sister shoots it down without letting you finish. If your dad doesn’t support your choice to get a history degree, and is pushing you to get that teaching credential so you’ll always have a job and benefits. If your friend makes general negative comments about your life choices (“I told you he was wrong for you from the start”).
But Why are They Unsupportive, Abby?
There are four main reasons your friends or family members are unsupportive which basically boil down into two categories: they’re scared for you or scared for themselves. These beliefs and emotional drivers are largely unconscious so your friends and family have no idea that they’re doing it or even why they’re doing it.
#1 They want to keep you from pain. They’re negative and shooting things down because they love you and they’re trying to keep you from failing or having pain in your life. It’s their way of saying they’re afraid for you. They want what’s best for you and think they know what you need to ultimately have a happy life. They don’t want to see you sad or upset so they don’t support any decisions or thoughts you’re having that don’t line up with what they think will make you happy in the long-term.
#2 They don’t want to worry about you. They want to feel at ease about what you’re doing so they don’t have to worry about you. They try to control you and direct you to the options they think are best. This is when your mom is pushing you to get married even though you’re unsure because, to your mom, being married means safety and security and once you’re married off, she’ll exhale a sigh of relief.
#3: They see your actions as a reflection on them. This comes up mostly with parents and siblings, but I’ve also seen it with partners and friends. Living a certain way, looking a specific way and making particular life choices are important to those around you because they think it’s a reflection on them. Your parents don’t support you having a child if you’re not married because of how they think others will perceive them (although they say they’re worried about how others will perceive you)! Your friend is vocal and negative about your choice of style because they don’t want to be seen out at the club with you looking like that.
#4: They’re jealous. You might not be supported because a friend or family member is jealous of a decision you’re making because they unconsciously wish they could do what you’re doing! This drives them to shoot down or dismiss what you’re doing so they don’t have to deal with their own feelings and actions.
I’ve seen this one when someone is getting divorced. They have friends or family members who are vehemently against it, because they, themselves have unhappy marriages but can’t imagine leaving so don’t want you to show them that it’s possible. If you’re unhappy and leaving your marriage, what does it say about the fact that they complain all the time about their own?
This can also happen when someone stops drinking. A friend might oppose it because that friend drinks more than you. If you stop because you think it’s a problem, what does that say about them?!
And different people can have the same negative reactions to something you’re doing but for different reasons, so don’t lump everyone in together!
What I want you to get in the end is that, no matter the underlying reason for a friend or family member being unsupportive, their negative reaction is about them, not you. I’m not blowing sunshine up your butt here. I’m speaking the truth. They’re having a fear reaction and that’s about their fear first, not about your idea or action. I want you to find compassion for them and not react in fear yourself.
Ask yourself: Why aren’t they supportive of this? You might answer, “My dad is always negative – he’s always putting down my ideas.” Again, take a breath, dig deep and ask yourself why? If he’s unsupportive because he’s scared for you, he deserves compassion. If he’s unsupportive because he’s jealous of the life you’re living, he deserves compassion (how sad not to live the life you truly want). If he’s unsupportive because he thinks your actions are a reflection on him, he’s living in fear and ego and deserves your compassion. Do you see where I’m going here?
Now, getting to that compassion can be tough when you’re being criticized, dismissed or told you’re crazy to do what you’re doing.
The 5 Things to Do if Your Friends or Family are Unsupportive
Tip #1: Don’t look for approval
The biggest problem is looking for approval. The only person in the whole wide world who needs to approve of what you’re doing is you. When you look to your friends and family to approve of what you’re doing, you’re setting yourself up.
This really all comes down to your self-esteem and confidence. Remember, this isn’t about them, it’s about you. It’s about you standing up for yourself and having the self-esteem and confidence to say what you will and won’t stand for, what you need and feeling confident in your decision-making as well as not allowing others’ negative reactions to sway you.
Tip #2: Set them up for success
Start any conversation with what you want. What are you looking to get from this person? How do you want this conversation to end? Set the other person up for success by being clear about what you want before you share.
“Dad, I’d like us to have a conversation about my work. I know how much you love me and I really value your opinion but, in the past when we’ve had these conversations, I haven’t felt supported. I know you want to support me, and I know that when I say things you don’t like you get worried but that comes at me in a really negative way. I’m sure you don’t mean it that way but that’s how it feels. So, I’d like us to have a conversation about some decisions I’ve made and I want to feel your support first. That’s it. I’m not looking for you to agree with what I’m telling you, but I’m looking for you to love and support me. If you have questions about what I’m talking about, please ask but I’d appreciate you keeping your opinions to yourself for now.”
You’ve got to find some compassion for those you love. Remember, they’re doing the best they can with the tools they have.
Tip #3: Be mindful of what you share
If you have someone in your life who cannot seem to be anything but unsupportive, I would ask you to start thinking about what you’re sharing with this person. Why must you share this piece of your life? Or maybe think of how you share things – maybe send an email where you can say what you want and need instead of speaking in person to that person where things get heated and you end up feeling hurt.
Tip #4: Find other resources
Instead of sharing certain things with your usual friends and family, build your own support network. Can’t talk with your mom about the guy you’re dating without her getting very negative? Find someone else who listens well and share with them.
Also build your own resources. Parents unsupportive of your college dreams? Do you want to major in art but they’ll only pay if you major in business? That’s their choice. Be a grownup and either pay your tuition yourself, work hard to get a scholarship or get resourceful and find other ways to pay for school.
Tip #5: Make the cut
When family members aren’t supportive, I lean towards not sharing certain things with them. I don’t like cutting family members out of your life unless they’re truly toxic and/or you just can’t keep your boundaries around them.
When friends aren’t supportive I think it’s a different issue. My big question is: why are these people your friends!? I can’t imagine having unsupportive friends! WTF?! I’ve definitely had friends question my choices or ask about my thinking, but it’s always in a supportive way. I can tell why they’re asking (not that I always like it at first) and generally what might feel negative in a moment is truly something I needed to think about that I was overlooking.
I’ve had people sneak through over the years – I’d meet someone great and we’d become friends and hang out and, over time, I’d notice them undermining me or being unsupportive. Each time, I’d just stop responding to those people and gradually (or not so gradually in some cases) remove them from my life. You don’t have to make any grand proclamations – just stop spending time with them or reaching out.
No matter what, you need to feel your friends have your back first. Really look at these relationships and ask yourself some hard questions about why you’re keeping these relationships alive if you’re continually not getting what you need.
I want you to listen my loving kindness guided meditation. Then, listen to it every day, for one week and watch the changes happen. As you become more peaceful, compassionate and loving, not only will your inner critic become muted, but your life will open up in new ways.